From the March 1989 issue of Stereo Review
, here are my thoughts on Lucinda Williams
' debut on Rough Trade. As you'll discover at the bottom of the post, I have a good reason for bringing it to your attention.
The first time I played the
new Lucinda Williams album, I started to think
about my late colleague
Noel Coppage. Noel used to keep a
list in these pages of what he called
"Real People," an appellation that
had nothing whatsoever to do with
the early-Eighties TV show; instead, he was
talking about performers, specifically musicians. To my knowledge,
Noel never heard Lucinda Williams, although she's knocked
around for over a decade, but if he
had, or if he'd lived to hear her
remarkable eponymous debut album, I'm sure he
would have added Williams to his
small, select list. This woman is as
real as it gets.
The idiom here is basic rock, country,
and blues. The songs, all written by
Williams, except for one by Howlin'
Wolf, are anecdotal, sharply observed, and by turns wry and poignant. But what makes them really
special (not to discount the fine performances by her obviously simpatico band) is Williams herself: She
has the kind of voice that suggests
the rise and fall of empires as witnessed through the bottom of a shot
glass. It's an instrument worthy of
the Bonnie Raitt comparisons it
most often draws, but there's an
edge to Williams's singing, a raw,
wounded, and utterly soulful quality, that also suggests a male honkytonker like Gram Parsons. As a
result, Williams really doesn't
sound like any other woman rocker
currently working, and listening to
her album was an experience that
hit me about as hard as falling in love.
There are moments in Lucinda
Williams that verge on the merely
ordinary. "Crescent City," for example, rocks along quite nicely and is
obviously felt, but it's a fairly prosaic reminiscence nonetheless. Mostly, though, the music will make you
laugh ("Changed the Locks") or break
your heart ("Abandoned"), sometimes
both in the same song ("Passionate
Kisses"). Even in an era when it's
suddenly, suspiciously, fashionable
to be a smart solo woman in rock,
Lucinda Williams is clearly something special, and I suggest you hear it immediately. Meanwhile, Noel,
I think we've got another Real Person here.
As I said up top, I have a good reason for foisting the above on you.
To wit: Late last week, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from an associate producer at CBS Sunday Morning who wanted to know if I in fact had written the line "She
has the kind of voice that suggests the rise and fall of empires as witnessed through the bottom of a shot glass."
Because they were working on an upcoming profile of Williams, and they were thinking of quoting me on air. Ain't that a kick in the pants?
Anyway, he assured me he'd let me know if, in fact, my little bon mot made the cut (the segment is due to run in a couple of weeks). And of course, I'll let you guys know as well.
Can you tell I'm insufferably pleased about this?